Month: August 2017

Teach God’s Word to the Next Generation

Education Sunday – August 27, 2017

The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the Baals 4 but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel. 5 The Lord established the kingdom under his control; and all Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, so that he had great wealth and honor. 6 His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.

7 In the third year of his reign he sent his officials Ben-Hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah to teach in the towns of Judah. 8 With them were certain Levites. 9 They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people. (2 Chronicles 17:3-7)

“Above all things, the principal and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures.”

Martin Luther wrote those words. He knew a thing or two about Christian education. After he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, after he defended his works and writings and beliefs in his showdown with the emperor and the church at the Diet of Worms, Luther was excommunicated.

How could this Reformation, this return to God’s Word, take hold in such a superstitious and defiant church? How does a minister “right the ship”? Martin Luther soon realized two important answers to that question. The first is that no minister, no person, can make another person believe. Only God can do that. And the other important realization Luther came to was that God changes people’s hearts through his Word.

At the heart of the Reformation was the teaching of God’s Word. The people needed to be educated, and Martin Luther would spend the rest of his life, up to his dying days, preaching and teaching the Word of the Lord. He had his work cut out for him. Starting with his fellow priests, Luther found out that these ministers of his day couldn’t even list the ten commandments! The German Christians knew even less.

No wonder Martin Luther finally said, “Above all things, the principal and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures.”

That wasn’t just true in 16th century Germany. It has always been true. Any great reformation, any important revival of Christianity has to be founded on Christian education.

This morning we see an important but overlooked example of the importance of Christian education from Israel’s history. Education in God’s Word had become a hallmark for Israel in the time of King David. He had returned God’s people to God’s Word through music and the organization of music in worship. Johann Sebastian Bach once famously stated, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” David would have whole-heartedly agreed.

David’s son, Solomon, picked up the mantle of education and furthered it using his many proverbs. We heard one of those educational proverbs in our verse of the day, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” That teaching was meant to be a teaching of God’s Word.

Sadly, those beautiful educational reforms of David and Solomon were undone by the kings that came after them. By the time of King Jehoshaphat, the southern Kingdom of Judah needed spiritual help. Christian education was no longer a priority. The people had fallen away.

That danger holds true for us, too. Distractions keep us from learning from God’s Word in church. Distractions keep us from spending time in God’s Word at home. Embarrassment can sometimes keep us from teaching that word to others. Would our former teachers always be proud of how we carry ourselves? Not always.

In a similar situation, Jehoshaphat did something that, as far as we know, no other king of Judah had done. He taught the people. He sent his own officials and paired them with the Levites who knew God’s Word better than anyone. “They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people.” In many ways, it was Judah’s first reformation. They would need many more over the years.

By the time Jesus had begun his ministry in the New Testament, his people were once again in spiritual dire straights. Oh, they had teachers, but those teachers of the law and the Pharisees were only interesting in teaching their own made up laws.

The people knew nothing of God’s love. They knew nothing of the coming Messiah. They were “like sheep without a shepherd.” They were like students without a teacher.

But now the rabbi, the teacher, had arrived. Throughout Jesus’ ministry we hear him teaching the people as the ultimate teacher: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.” It was this teaching specifically that aroused the anger and jealousy of Israel’s old teachers.

They wanted him gone, by any means necessary. The means came when one of Jesus’ own pupils, Judas, decided to betray his teacher.

Having been captured, Jesus, the perfect teacher of Israel, was forced to stand before those false teachers on the Sanhedrin. As bad teachers are wont to do, the Sanhedrin made up facts in order to try and prove Jesus wrong.

It worked. Jesus allowed these Jewish teachers, who should have known better, to crucify him. And the Great Teacher died because no one believed what he taught. Of course, the most important teaching he taught was that he came to die. He also came to rise again.

Sometimes teaching a lesson in the classroom is not enough. The children’s eye glaze over. They glance out the window. The material just doesn’t seem to connect. That is when a physical, memorable lesson needs to take place. Don’t just talk about leaves. Go outside and see them, touch them. Don’t just talk about how a prism divides the light. Show it.

There was no more physical or memorable lesson Jesus could share than his appearance to his disciples on Easter Sunday. Peter and John never forgot what it was like to hold Jesus’ nail-marked hands and see where the spear pierced his side.

We have been taught those precious truths, too. We need to keep hearing those truths. We need to keep teaching those truths to the next generation. Martin Luther had it right. “Above all things, the principal and most general subject of study, both in the higher and the lower schools, should be the Holy Scriptures.” But perhaps a man named Nikolai Grundtvig put it even better…

“God’s Word is our great heritage And shall be ours forever;

To spread its light from age to age Shall be our chief endeavor.

Through life it guides our way; In death it is our stay.

Lord, grant, while worlds endure, We keep its teachings pure Throughout all generations.” Amen.

Posted by mike

The Light No Darkness Can Overcome

11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 23 No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.” 25 But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.”

27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. 28 Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”

29 “Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.” (Exodus 10:21-29)

“The Sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist hovers over all.” The ancient Greek writer, Homer, used those words to describe a solar eclipse. It was an awe-inspiring sight for the ancients to witness the moon cross in front of the sun, and it wasn’t just the Greeks that wrote about it. Over 4,000 years ago, before Abraham was born, the Chinese witnessed the first recorded eclipse and considered it an omen of doom. The ancient Babylonians knew the stars so well that they could accurately predict when an eclipse was going to happen, much like we do today.

Even today, in our modern world, amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, most will still be amazed at tomorrow’s total solar eclipse. Cars will stop on the side of the road. Workers will walk outside of buildings to look up (with the appropriate eyewear). And for a couple of minutes across modern America, everything will stop and everyone will look up. It will be a lot like when the moon blocked the sun thousands of years ago.

But some things, thousands of years ago, were different. In the Old Testament, when the Israelites found themselves slaves in Egypt, God sent ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go. Every plague God sent on Egypt attacked one of their false gods. The Egyptians worshiped Hapi – the god of the nile, so the true God turned the water to blood. The Egyptian god of fertility had a frog head, and God sent a plague of frogs on the Egyptians. For eight plagues this continued, as God undid every Egyptian false god with his real power.

But there was one Egyptian god still untouched by the plagues, and he was the king of them all. Ra, the sun god, was the most worshiped god of Egypt. And when Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites go, God revealed his almighty power even over the sun. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.’”

Some have suggested that this coincided with a total solar eclipse, like the one we will witness tomorrow. But there was more at work here than a simple “lucky” movement of the moon. The longest a total eclipse can last is 7 1/2 minutes. This darkness over Egypt lasted 3 days! And it didn’t just get somewhat dark. “No one could see anyone else or move about.” Most telling of all was how God described the darkness he sent. He called it a “darkness that can be felt.”

A darkness that can be felt isn’t just a momentary threat. This is a darkness that slowly moves through you. It doesn’t just surround you. It fills you. Darkness like that pulls away all hope. It makes you want to scream only to convince you that no one is listening. This darkness immobilizes. And in the end, this is a darkness that kills.

Those are the words God uses to describe the entire world we live in. “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples.” When God uses these words to talk about darkness, he is really talking about sin. This is a world covered with the darkness of sin. Even worse are the people – thick darkness covers them. And that includes us.

Darkness cannot produce its own light. Something else has to come to remove darkness. And for us and for our salvation, that is exactly what God did. Our verse of the day for this morning told us how: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” He came as “the light [that] shines in the darkness.”

He came to take the darkness of our sins up on himself. As the light of the world, Jesus allowed himself to be snuffed out on the cross. The Gospel of Luke tells us that after Jesus suffered our punishment on the cross, just as he was about to die, something strange happened. “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.” Some astronomers say there was a solar eclipse just at that moment, but that doesn’t explain the miracle. This darkness was more than 7 1/2 minutes. “The sun stopped shining” for three hours!

Then came the fulfillment of another prophecy. “I will turn the darkness into light before them.” Jesus did that on Easter Sunday. He did all of that for you, so that Paul could write, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”

So how can we live in the light of the Lord and still stand in a sin-darkened world? How is that possible? Well, God has done it before. While the plague of thick darkness covered the Egyptians, the book of Exodus tells us, “All the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.”

So what can guide us through the darkness of this world: our every day problems, our crises of faith, our pain and suffering? God’s Word. The Bible calls God’s Word “a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” This Word of God is what enables us, formerly spiritually blind people, to “Live as children of light.”

Even when you know the end is coming. The book of Acts told us this morning what that will look like, too. “I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below… The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” That will be the Last Day, when the Lord brings us home to heaven.

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will once again see a magnificent show of God’s creation. The moon will pass in front of the sun to form a total solar eclipse. What a reminder that will be for you and me. We once felt the darkness of our sins. But Jesus came to take that darkness upon himself, to win heaven for us. And when he comes again “the sun will be turned to darkness”, but we will stand with him in his brilliance forever. Jesus might not return tomorrow. But we can be ready for him always, singing joyfully that we have: “Life un-eclipsed by doubt and dread: [because] Christ has risen from the dead.” Amen.

Posted by mike

The End of All Things Is Near

9th Sunday after Pentecost – August 6, 2017

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. 7The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:1-8)

Cassandra may have been the most frustrated lady in Greek mythology. She had been one of the most beautiful woman to walk the earth. One day, her brown curly hair and her dark, beautiful eyes caught the gaze of the Greek god, Apollo. To show his love for the beautiful Cassandra, Apollo gave her a one-of-a-kind gift. He allowed her to see the future. Sadly, Cassandra didn’t return Apollo’s love. Now Apollo’s affection turned to anger. He couldn’t take back his gift of seeing the future from Cassandra, so he added a curse. Cassandra could still tell others the future, but now no one would believe her.

That type of existence would have been sad enough. But Cassandra also happened to be a princess of Troy. And at the height of the Trojan War Cassandra found herself caught within the walls of the magnificent city. After a bitter, bloody war for the ages, she watched as their enemies, the Greeks, left their shore in defeat.

The Trojans had won the war! And to top it all off, the Greeks had left a massive gift – a great wooden horse.

All the Trojans rejoiced, celebrating in the streets, drinking and feasting. All the Trojans, that is, except Cassandra. She knew what was going to happen. She knew that inside that huge wooden horse the Greeks were hiding. She warned her fellow Trojans throughout the city – but no one listened. They wouldn’t even let her look in the horse to prove her point.

It all happened just like Cassandra said it would. The celebrating Trojans fell asleep. The Greeks came out of the wooden horse, and the great city of Troy fell.

“Beware telling what the future will hold. Lest no one believes what you have told.”

The prophet Joel may have been the most frustrated prophet of God’s people. We heard the words the Lord told Joel to speak in our first lesson this morning. Like the mythical Cassandra, Joel knew what the future held, but nobody seemed to listen. Unlike Cassandra, Joel was real, and his message was really going to be fulfilled.

“The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble.” Joel was prophesying Judgment Day and the end of all things. Nobody was listening. Like the citizens of Troy, God’s people were much happier worshipping false gods and living for themselves. They didn’t believe the end would ever come.

Impending doom has a way of keeping people mindful of what really matters. But if God’s people could put off destruction, if they could forget about judgment, then they could continue living the way they wanted to live. Peter gives us a detailed picture of what that type of living looks like: “Living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.”

That certainly sounds like the way the world chooses to live. But not us, right? Orgies, carousing, idolatry all seem to extreme for us to worry about them. And who even knows what debauchery means? Well, it is similar to drunkenness – so maybe you don’t worry about that sin either. But this morning Peter isn’t talking about unbelievers. He is speaking to you. And while some of the sins in his list might not be tempting you at the moment, he points out all of your sins when he warns against living “for evil human desires.”

If God wants you to wake up from a sinful slumber, the devil is trying very hard to put you to sleep in your sins. The devil doesn’t want you to think about the future. The devil doesn’t want you to feel guilty about your sins. And the devil certainly doesn’t want you to remember that one day you “will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

So the devil has you focus on the people around you. They are the people who “think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.” He wants you to fall asleep in sinful greed and pride, like they have.

No wonder the Lord is giving us a wake-up call this morning! And as always, this wake-up call focuses on Jesus. “Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude.” Peter says, “You have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do.” And so Peter finally and emphatically encourages you and me: “Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply.”

Now, I am no Cassandra. I can’t see into the future. But I can predict with certainty that you and I will fall short of those perfect expectations God gives us. There have been times, and there will be times, when we will fall in to the selfish sins of the world. And what a tragedy that will be.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt like Cassandra. He was constantly telling people what was going to happen, and nobody seemed to listen. Those heartless responses led to Jesus’ most memorable moments of righteous anger and his tears of sadness. They led to the reason he came. He predicted it all. He told his betrayer that he would betray Jesus. He told his enemies they would apprehend him. He told his disciples that he would be crucified on a cross. And even though no one believed him beforehand, it all happened exactly as he said it would.

Those sins we committed, when we were “doing what pagans choose to do” were taken away by Jesus. And now come Peter’s words for you: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.”

Those words of Peter this morning sound ominous: “The end of all things is near.” They are ominous. But now you know how to be ready. Believe in the Lord Jesus. Live your faith. “Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray…love each other deeply.”

You might feel like Cassandra – telling the world about the end while no one believes you. Don’t worry. Cassandra’s words may not have been effective – but God’s Word is always effective.

“Beware telling what the future will hold. Lest no one believes what you have told.

The Lord always knows what will take place. Trust in his amazing grace.” Amen.

Posted by mike